In her column last week, The CJN’s Jean Gerber pointedly reminded us that the current agitated public debate regarding possible adjustments to Old Age Security (OAS) payments has been devoid of any reference to underlying societal values and principles.
“For them [the media and government officials] it’s all about the money. Is it? Should it be?” Gerber asked. “Are we thinking about the right questions? Or is it easier to just think about the cost, without acknowledging that we don’t even have the right questions?”
To be fair, the government’s public pronouncements on the subject have indeed paid homage to the older generations of Canadians. In her address last week to Canadian Club of Toronto, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, expressly acknowledged the need to provide for “the generation that built this country.” She also affirmed that Canadian seniors currently collecting benefits would not be affected by future changes to the OAS.
But it was also the case that the minister took pains to direct the key message of her comments to younger Canadians. “In a speech to Toronto’s Canadian Club, Ms. Finley singled out a table of students,” the Globe and Mail reported.
And the nub of her message was that the future cost of the OAS would be a burden to them. “The total cost of benefits will be increasingly unsustainable for tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. And it’s the next generation of Canadians who will have to shoulder the burden,” she said.
To be sure, the affordability of OAS is a vital concern for the government. Indeed, it would be negligent, if not reckless, were the government not to plan for the future.
But in formulating that plan, the government must be reminded, as Gerber and so many others plead, that the debate must be more than exclusively economic and actuarial. The debate must also be about ethics, responsibilities, values and principles.
Since the very first moments when families gathered around a hearth or sat together at a dinner table, it has always been the lot of one generation to shoulder burdens for the other. Going off to war, raising children, tending to parents and caring for the needy – the poor, the indigent, the infirm, or in biblical terms, the widow, the orphan and the stranger – are the burdens that we carry by virtue of our humanity, by virtue of the fact that we have chosen to live together, to build a society together in a civil, mutually respectful and dignified manner.
Especially in relation to foreign policy and international relations, we have seen the government apply principles and core values in the settling of public policy.
We expect and look forward to the government doing the very same when it formulates its policies on OAS.